written by: Diana Cooper•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 7/8/2010
Learn about the amazing Florida alligator that has been around since prehistoric times. Find interesting facts about their behavior, habitat, diet, and more.
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The Florida Alligator
The Florida alligator (American alligator - a crocodilian) has been around for 200 million years. In the mid 1900s, the alligator population was almost wiped out by industries and poachers for their skin and in 1973, they were placed on the endangered list. Today, they are no longer considered endangered but they are listed as threatened.
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The average length and weight of a Florida alligator is 13 feet and 800 pounds. Their front feet have five long toes, making it easy for them to walk on land. Their back feet have four toes and are webbed, making it easy for them to swim in the water.
One interesting fact about Florida alligators is the muscles in their jaws are powerful when closing their mouth but relatively weak when opening their mouth. A strip of duct tape or the bare hands of an adult male can hold their jaws shut.
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Behavior and Habitat
The alligator is normally timid towards humans and will usually walk or swim away if approached by one. They do not regard humans as prey but they will attack in self-defense. One should never feed an alligator in the wild and Florida enforces this by law. If fed, they will lose their fear of people and begin to associate us with food.
The Florida alligator can be found living in a variety of habitats throughout the state and are quite popular in the Everglades. They reside in freshwater environments, including swamps, marshland, lakes, rivers, and ponds.
Alligators are cold-blooded creatures, meaning they can not regulate their body temperature. To stay warm, they will bask in the sun's rays and to stay cool, they often retreat to the water.
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Alligators do not chew. Small animals, such as fish, snakes, and turtles, are their main prey which they can kill with one bite and swallow whole. To kill large prey, like deer, they will often drag them in the water to drown. To eat them, they will wait until they rot or they will bite down on their body and spin them wildly until chunks of them are torn off. This is known as the "death roll".
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Florida alligators normally mate in the months of April and May. The female will construct a mound nest, lay 10-70 eggs, and cover them to incubate. After about two months, the mother will hear the hatchlings working their way out of the shells. Once out, she will gently carry them in her jaw to the water.
Alligators lack sexual chromosomes. The temperature of the incubated eggs will determine the alligator's sex. Warmer temperatures produce males.
Baby alligators are quite colorful which easily attract predators but they do have a loud chirp that will alert the mother when assistance is needed. Despite their chirp, only 1 in 10 babies survive the first full year. Male alligators are known to eat young alligators.
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The following are more interesting facts about the Florida Alligator:
• Besides living throughout Florida, American alligators also live in Louisiana and parts of other southeastern states.
• Besides the American alligator, the only other alligator in the world is the Chinese alligator. The Chinese alligator is extremely rare and about half the size of the American alligator.
• The alligator and the crocodile are similar in appearance except for their snout. An alligator has a broad and short snout and the crocodile has a long and pointed one.
• The Florida Everglades is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles live.
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Adult Alligators: Image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Two_american_alligators.jpg
Baby Alligators: Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alligator_mississippiensis_babies.jpg